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Last update: Feb 2013

Status and trends

Globally, an estimated 15 per cent of infants, or more than 1 in 7, weigh less than 2,500 grams at birth over 20 million newborns annually. More than half of low-birthweight infants are born in South Asia, the region with the highest incidence of low birthweight and where more than 1 in 4 infants are born low birthweight. India, one of the countries with the highest incidence of low birthweight, has nearly 7.5 million low-birthweight babies annually the highest of any country.

More than half of newborns weighing less than 2,500 grams globally are from just 5 countries
Number of infants weighing less than 2,500 grams at birth, in thousands, 20072012

Source: UNICEF global databases 2012, from Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), Demographic Health Surveys (DHS) and other national surveys.


More than one quarter of newborns in South Asia weigh less than 2,500 grams at birth, where more than two thirds of infants were not weighed at birth


Note: Data for regional averages of births not weighed cover less than 50% of births in Middle East and North Africa, Latin America and Caribbean, Central and Eastern Europe/Commonwealth of Independen States and least developed countries. South Asia includes India, although survey estimates fall outside of the window for estimates.
Source: UNICEF global databases 2012, from MICS, DHS and other national surveys, 20072011.

Trend analysis is difficult

There is a lack of comparable estimates over time, both within and between countries. Limited trend data, however, are available from MICS and DHS, covering 50 developing countries, or about 60 per cent of the developing world's population, excluding China.

A population-weighted average for available survey points shows that the incidence of low birthweight remained unchanged from the 1990s to 2010. The lack of change appears to apply in both sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Available trend data are insufficient for other regions.